At least 19 dead as forest fires approach densely populated areas of central Chile


SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left at least 19 people dead and destroyed about 1,100 homes, officials said Saturday.

Chile’s Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said there were currently 92 forest fires burning in the center and south of the country, where temperatures have been unusually high this week.

The deadliest of the fires were occurring in the region of Valparaiso, where authorities urged people not to leave their homes so firetrucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles can transit with greater ease.

Tohá did not offer any details about the 19 people killed.

She said that two fires near the towns of Quilpué and Villa Alemana had burnt through at least 19,770 acres since Friday. One of the fires was threatening the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar.

Three shelters have been set up in the Valparaiso region, and Tohá said that rescue teams were still struggling to reach the most heavily affected neighborhoods. Tohá said that 19 helicopters and more than 450 firefighters had been brought into the area to control the blazes.

The El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and hotter than usual temperatures along the west of South America this year, increasing the risk of forest fires. In January, more than 2,000 acres of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather.